Dallas Morning News

Dallas man one step closer to freedom after DNA clears him in 1981 rape

Monday, September 15, 2008
By TIARA M. ELLIS / The Dallas Morning News

While a 28-year-old woman was being raped at White Rock Lake in August 1981, Johnnie Earl Lindsey was at work, pressing pants at a commercial laundry business, he has said.

But Mr. Lindsey, who is now 56, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. After nearly 26 years there, the Dallas man is one step closer to freedom this week after DNA test results showed that he was not the man who sexually assaulted the woman, said his attorney, Michelle Moore.

A court hearing is scheduled Friday at the Frank Crowley Courts Building.

"Hopefully he'll be released," said Ms. Moore, an assistant Dallas County public defender and a board member of the Innocence Project, a legal group that seeks to get wrongful convictions overturned.

Dallas County District Attorney spokeswoman Jamille Bradfield confirmed the hearing date but said she could not comment further until later this week. If released, Mr. Lindsey would be the 19th man cleared by DNA testing in Dallas County since 2001, when the state Legislature began allowing post-conviction DNA testing.

The rape victim, who is not being identified because of The Dallas Morning News' policy not to name victims of sexual assault, pointed out Mr. Lindsey's picture in a six-person photo lineup that Dallas police mailed to her one year after the attack. She was living in San Antonio at the time, according to court records.

The suspect had been described as a black man in his 20s wearing no shirt, according to court records. Only two men in the lineup photos were shirtless, Ms. Moore said. And Mr. Lindsey was one of them.

"Juries back in the day believed that when a woman was raped, she must be able to identify her attacker," Ms. Moore said. "We know so much more now. There have been so many studies about how bad eyewitness accounts can be."

On Aug. 25, 1981, the victim was riding her bike around White Rock Lake about 11 a.m. when she saw a shirtless man standing on the path in a wooded area, according to court records.

As she tried to ride past him, the man grabbed the handlebars of her bike and knocked her off, court records show. He said he had a knife and threatened to stab her if she didn't do as he said. After being sexually assaulted, the woman managed to get away and ran for help, covering herself with a paper bag she found, according to court records.

Mr. Lindsey has maintained his innocence through two trials and several parole board hearings, Ms. Moore said. His first conviction was overturned because he was indicted under a statute that was not in effect at the time of the incident. The Dallas County district attorney's office retried him and got the same conviction.

"The reasons they gave for not granting him parole were because of the nature of the crime and because he would not admit to the offense," Ms. Moore said. "It's been almost 26 years. I can't believe he didn't just admit to the assault so he could be released."

In 1977, Mr. Lindsey was convicted of aggravated robbery, for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Ms. Moore said that was a mistake he made when he was younger, and that he regrets his actions.

Before the 1981 rape case, Mr. Lindsey pleaded guilty to an unrelated attempted rape and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Ms. Moore said he did not commit that crime but pleaded guilty under the advice of his attorney and in exchange for a short sentence.

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